Everyone was expecting Jeremy Lin to stay with the New York Knicks. Everyone in the organization was, Lin was, and the Houston Rockets were probably as well. But two things the past 24 hours have changed that: 1) Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet with the Rockets changed from a 4 year/$24 million deal, to 3 years and $25 million, with the 3rd year paying him $15 million—an insane amount for a player with 25 career starts, and 2) The Knicks acquired point guard Raymond Felton—Amare Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll buddy from 2010. ESPN is reporting that the Knicks are now planning to let Lin walk.
The problem with Lin’s new offer sheet isn’t the overall contract, but that $15 million salary in year three. The Knicks would be severely over the luxury tax threshold, and would have to pay the league an extra $15 million in taxes for Lin’s contract. The Knicks could easily ride out the $9 million first and second years of the contract if Lin plays at his Linsane level, since his marketing machine would make up the luxury tax costs. But the Knicks believe that $30 million in the 2014-2015 season is simply too much, especially if he doesn’t pan out.
But why are the Knicks bothering to think about that third year this much? When, in the history of the NBA, have GMs thought about the consequences of a contract three years down the line? When have the Knicks ever thought about the consequences of anything? This is the same team that gave Amare “My Contract Expires In 36 Months” Stoudemire a FIVE year/$100 million contract, even though his knees were a problem, he plays zero defense (the Knicks had to pay injury-prone Tyson Chandler $58 million to provide defense cover for Stoudemire), and he’s a fraud of a player. The only reason Stoudemire became the player he is because of Steve Nash, and the Knicks have been pairing him with Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, and Jeremy Lin (who actually ran the pick-and-roll better with Chandler than Stoudemire). Every forward who’s ever left Nash has instantly become less effective elsewhere (see: Diaw, Boris and Marion, Shawn). They signed Stoudemire because they didn’t want to leave the summer of 2010 empty handed (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Boozer, and Joe Johnson were all up for grabs). Now that’s the short-term vision that we’re all used to! For the Knicks to suddenly be worried about money and cap issues down the road is unlike them, which would actually be a good thing 99 times out of 100. Lin is that 100th time.
In the NBA, there always seems to be ways to beat the cap. The Knicks are worried about committing a combined $75 million to Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Lin in 2014-2015, but that’s a bridge that should be crossed in two years—not now. Furthermore, it’s a bridge that can and will be crossed. One of those four would just have to be traded by then. Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Lin would be carrying expiring contracts into that season. NBA GMs operate in a world where expiring contracts equals valuable trade bait. There’s always another GM who’s willing to take on the bad contract of an overrated big-name player, especially if it’s an expiring contract. Bad contract swaps for salary cap relief are commonplace. It’s not implausible that one of those four players would be traded within the next two years to enough salary cap space so James Dolan doesn’t lose sleep over paying Lin’s luxury tax.
The Knicks already have one of the highest payrolls in basketball. It’s obvious that they’re trying to compete for a championship now. By biting Lin’s bullet, they give themselves a three man rotation at point guard, and more flexibility at the 2. Iman Shumpert will be out until December, Landry Fields is gone, leaving JR Smith as the only shooting guard on the roster. Lin could easily slide in at the 2 for 15 minutes a game with either Jason Kidd or Raymond Felton running the point in a dual point guard lineup. Lin established himself as a pick-and-roll playmaker who is always looking to score first—a dual point guard lineup can work with his scoring ability, Kidd’s smarts, and Felton’s decent outside shooting. If they’re serious about toppling Miami, they need to hoard all the talent they can.
Realistically, this Knicks team—with or without Lin—isn’t a championship caliber squad. At best, they’re fighting with the drudge of teams after Miami in the Eastern Conference for seeds two through five. Since they’re not going to compete for a title, why not have some fun in the meantime? Bringing Lin back creates more short-term buzz for a team that can’t rebuild for another three seasons. In short: Donnie Walsh’s cap-clearing antics of 2008-2010 to become a contender in 2010-2012 were in vain. The Knicks are fucked, so they might as well take high-risk, high-reward option in Lin and hope that he becomes that piece that makes the Knicks better than Chicago, Brooklyn, Indiana, or Boston, but still a little worse than Miami.
The Knicks are trying to out-smart themselves here. For a historically dumb organization, that’s the wrong move.
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